By Ted Belman
In Ami Isseroff’s latest article Israel and Hamas: Half a loaf may be poisonous he comes out against half measures such as the siege.
Israeli half-measure actions against extremist groups force domestic opponents of those groups to side with their political enemies. This is true even though, for example, it is obvious that Fatah are committing political and possible physical suicide by calling for an end to the siege of Gaza, which would empower Hamas. It would be even more unhealthy for Fatah to fail to support the Hamas at this point.
Pressure on civilian population is certainly not going to help either. Civilians are either powerless or support the Hamas moves. Hamas’ popularity increased significantly when they succeeded in opening the border to Egypt for a brief time.
Amir Oren and Robert Baer both note that the Hamas success in breaching the Rafah barrier makes a large scale Israeli attack in Gaza much more likely. But the options again, are not appetizing. Israel can take over the Rafah crossing, but IDF presence anywhere in Gaza in the long run is going to be an attractant to suicide bombers as well as an issue that is ideal for gathering support for the Hamas war against the Israeli “occupation.” Hamas may break out into Israel if IDF controls Rafah. Israel can invade northern Gaza in an attempt to stop the rockets, but of course they will return as soon as Israel leaves. Israel can target Hamas leaders, as it has killed Sheikh Yassin and Achmed Rantissi in the past, but that didn’t seem to set the Hamas back very much either.
Right, right and right.
Hamas is a threat at many levels, not just to Israel, but to the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the American sponsored peace process and Arab world moderates. Hamas is a strategic threat to Israel. For any such threat, one has to decide whether to contain it and last it out, as the US did with the USSR, or to confront it decisively and eliminate it, as was done with Nazi Germany. If the latter decision is made, the only acceptable “agreement” is unconditional surrender, and the only open option is total war. Hamas will not listen to “persuasion” and half-measures will only make it stronger. Before the decision to go to war is made, every option for solving the problem of Hamas with international support must be explored. Even if no support is forthcoming, as happened with diplomatic efforts that preceded the Six Day War, a serious diplomatic effort will help to explain the Israeli position to the world and garner at least passive support for any military action.
Those who attack government inaction and incompetence in dealing with Hamas are correct. Israel doesn’t have either a strategic or a tactical plan. It didn’t have a plan to deal with the Hamas breakout or with the consequences of the fuel cut, and it doesn’t have a plan to deal with the Hamas PR campaign and international pressure that will result from the electricity cuts. If Gazans overrun the border with Israel, it will be evident that the IDF and the government have no plan to deal with that either.
But those who advocate immediate military action are blowing smoke, because anything short of total Israeli victory in this case will mean defeat, and victory is not possible if Israel acts now. If five Hamas members are left alive and free in Gaza, they will proclaim “victory” as Hezbollah did in Lebanon. In Lebanon, Hezbollah managed to paralyze the government on the basis of its “victory” and the IDF failure. Hamas would certainly take over the West Bank and become undisputed rulers of the Palestinian areas if the Gaza operation is a repeat of the Second Lebanon war for the IDF.
A Gaza operation would exact a huge toll of casualties on both sides. It is impossible to soften up populated areas of Gaza with artillery or aerial bombardment, because the number of civilian casualties would be unacceptable. Hamas may also purposely put civilians in the path of a ground attack, to achieve the PR triumph of showing unarmed Arab women and children facing Israeli tanks.
I do not rule out such a campaign. That is why I have asked for a legal advice from an international lawyer schooled and experienced in armed conflict to advise the IDF how aggressive Israel can be. With the diplomatic support of the US and the EU, both of whom want to see the end of Hamas, anything is possible.
In order to carry out such an operation, IDF needs time. It cannot be interrupted by UN imposed cease fires that leave the other side in a position to recover. It must not be forced to leave Gaza before the Hamas movement is eradicated in the same way that the National Socialist Workers Party was destroyed in Germany after World War II. That is why the international position must be well prepared before any action is taken. Israel must also have a clear picture of what it is going to do with Gaza after Hamas is liquidated. It won’t do to return to the former situation of occupation. In addition to taking its case to the world, Israel should be doing everything in its power to ensure that whatever deterrent measures are taken, are aimed only at Hamas and not at Palestinian civilians, because Hamas uses the “humanitarian” issue to score large propaganda victories. That means that rather than cutting electricity or supplies, Israel should be looking for ways to ensure the welfare of the population despite Hamas.
But there is also a limited window for such an operation. We should not exaggerate the prowess of the Hamas at present. They have small arms, some anti-tank weapons and mines. They don’t have artillery and air power. But they have already managed to dig in their rocket emplacements in the same way as the Hezbollah did in Lebanon, and they are probably constructing Hezbollah type bunkers all the time. It will be harder and harder to eliminate them without paying a heavy price. Additionally, if Hezbollah in the meanwhile also succeeds in taking over the government of Lebanon, an attack on Gaza would probably mean a renewal of the Hezbollah rocket attacks, which could be carried out using long range rockets, launched from well behind the lines of UNIFIL.
The price Israel will pay for any action in Gaza will not be measured in lives only. Most of those who advocate immediate action in Gaza are right wing politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters. They should take into account that an inevitable consequence of a successful Israeli operation in Gaza will inevitably bolster the peace process and almost certainly lead to a quartet-enforced peace agreement in which Israel will ultimately cede Gaza and most of the West Bank to a Palestinian state. Eradicating Hamas is not only a prerequisite for peace, it will also be an inevitable catalyst for ending the occupation. The United States and other countries could not justify support for an Israeli operation in Gaza to the Arab world unless it had a “happy end” for the Palestinian people and the Arab side.
I too have recognized that removing Hamas will liberate the peace process and articulated my views in Don’t Destroy Hamas, Just Yet. In my view, it should only be done when a right-of-center government is in power so that the peace process can be stopped by upping Israel’s demands.
On the other hand, those “peace activists” who are yelling for an “end to the siege of Gaza” must understand that unless the siege is ended by an Israeli victory over Hamas or international action, if they get their wish, there will be no peace ever. Ending the siege under the terms offered by Hamas will enslave the Palestinians and guarantee the continuation of the conflict.
In the short term, they are our salvation.